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“The only thing necessary for these diseases to the triumph is for good people and governments to do nothing.”


      

Aids activists lose patience with allies

Date:     13 Jan 2003

The National Association of People Living with HIV/Aidss (Napwa) turned its guns on its allies as the hunger strike by several of its members ended dramatically this week. They were arrested after they allegedly forced entry into the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association’s offices in Midrand outside Johannesburg.

The Aids activists had previously been camping outside the offices of GlaxoSmithKline, a multinational drug company, since Christmas Day.

The move was part of the activists’ Black Christmas campaign to force drug companies and the government to make anti-retroviral drugs freely available in South Africa. They also called on financial institutions and insurance companies to stop discriminating against people with HIV/Aids.

In a flurry of activity, Napwa also took on other Aids activists, including loveLife, the Treatment Action Campaign and the Sowetan’s HIV-positive columnist Lucky Mazibuko.

The group says it chose direct action after its message had fallen on deaf ears at many demonstrations, protests and pickets.

The campaign got off to a soggy start when the strikers and their belongings were rained on during the first night.

“Some people got flu and for some it became very serious,” said Napwa media officer Joe Manciya.

Activists were complaining of stomach cramps, runny stomachs and skin infections by the third day.

    

“We had to call in a doctor for observations and to provide some medication,” he said.

“Four members were critical and had to be hospitalised for dehy- dration. Some had pneumonia. We also suffered from fatigue, and mouth and throat thrush,” he said.

The first phase of the campaign ended on New Year’s Day. But GlaxoSmithKline had ignored the protesters outside its offices and they decided to step up their actions. Seven of the hunger strikers then also stopped drinking water and threatened even stronger protests.

But the campaign came to an end this week when the seven strikers were arrested after forcing their way into the nearby Pharmaceutical Manufacturers’ Association’s offices. The activists had planned to stage a sit-in after occupying the offices, but instead spent a night in jail charged with trespassing.

“They couldn’t ignore us if we were inside the premises,” said Manciya, justifying the move.

The seven appeared in court on Tuesday January 7. The case was postponed until March 7 and the seven were released without bail.

Another group of protesters descended on The Banking Council’s offices in Johannesburg, but their occupation plans were stymied when they found the targeted office was well protected on the 10th floor of a building.

Napwa says banks refuse HIV-infected people bonds and loans, insurance companies do not pay out life polices if they discover the deceased had Aids, medical aids deny HIV/Aids patients medical coverage, and pharmaceutical companies do not provide affordable drugs.

The Napwa activists celebrated New Year by vandalising and scrawling “Napwa” across three loveLife billboards in Germiston.

“A lot of money has been pumped into loveLife and they are wasting it on meaningless messages,” says Than-duxolo Doro, Napwa’s spokesperson.

Manciya agrees: “We have no problem with loveLife, but the message displayed on their billboards is public pornography and isn’t interpreted properly for its target market to understand.

“We had pleaded with loveLife to change those messages, but they decided to ignore us. So we won’t talk anymore; we will do it for them.”

Angel Stewart Buchanan, a spokesperson for loveLife, says her group’s publicity campaign was designed to provoke discussion.

“Our study with teenagers, to whom the message is targeted, has shown they are effective,” she said. “We have tried to speak to Napwa to discuss their problems, but they will not speak with us.” She says loveLife will take legal action if Napwa targets more of its billboards.

Though most of Napwa’s targets have ignored the group, Doro says the activists have held “fruitful” meetings with the Department of Health and the Department of Social Development. The group wants the government to provide grants to everyone with HIV.

    

He says the government will facilitate meetings with targets of the Black Christmas campaign if Napwa has difficulties organising talks.“We will be interacting with the government a lot more ... and we’ll be part of the whole programme,” he said.